Three years ago, Jared and I started a holiday tradition with our friends Jon and Rebekah that’s wreaked happy holiday havoc on our tiny smidge of a kitchen. For this now-annual Christmastime event, we go all-out cookie-baking crazy, which means we spend an entire evening (and by evening I mean a solid four-hour chunk at minimum) baking mountains of Christmas cookies to share with family and friends. By the end of the night, all four of us are high on sugar, low on supplies and absolutely exhausted.
In the past three years, we’ve managed to streamline our process a bit for increased efficiency and slightly less cookie-baking fatigue. Seriously, year No. 1 was total craziness. We started around 6 p.m. and finished well after midnight; our cookie menu was pretty ambitious that year. And as fun as it is to bake with pals for hours and hours on end, icing cookies past 11 p.m. is just asking for messes and crazy-looking results (OK, the crazy cookies were pretty funny). So for year No. 2, I whipped up four batches of my now much-loved Real Simple sugar cookie dough ahead of time, and then we used that dough as a base to make cookies four different ways (jam prints, cinnamon swirls, iced and some snazzy little twisty guys with course sugar sprinkled on top). Again, we finished the evening with a plethora of sugary treats but in slightly better time.
This year, we banked on last year’s success with the made-ahead sugar cookie dough (I mixed up two batches that afternoon) and then added a new cookie to the mix: chocolate shortbread (another Real Simple masterpiece. Woot!). And to top it all off, Jon and Rebekah suggested adding one non-cookie treat to our sugar abundance in the form of white-chocolate-dipped pretzels. Smart and delicious. What a combo.
Before I jump into the sweets of our labor (and the chocolate shortbread recipe — yum!), here are a few quick tips for any aspiring cookie-baking partiers:
1. Make the dough ahead of time: This saves loads of time (and kitchen space, and clean-up, and …) and still saves all the fun stuff for when your guests arrive (i.e. rolling, cutting, baking, decorating). And you could certainly go splitskies with the make-ahead dough if you’d like. For a big shebang, have each guest/couple bring a ready-to-bake batch of a favorite cookie dough.
2. Pool your resources: The supplies Jared and I have stocked in our kitchen just can’t cover all the cookie-baking madness that takes place at this annual event, so Jon and Rebekah always bring some extra baking sheets, cooling racks, a rolling pin, cookie cutters and sprinkles along with some backup supplies like flour and sugar.
3. Throw in some variety: I have to say, those chocolate-covered pretzels were a super nice addition to our slew of cookies this year. Not only did they add some great taste variety, but they were also really fun to make (after some chocolate-melting misfires; melted chocolate is finicky stuff). So try thinking outside the cookie box a bit; a touch of variety will complement your cookies in a mighty tasty way.
And now, on to Cookiepalooza 2010. On the menu this year:
• Sugar cookies with butter cream frosting
• Raspberry jam cookies (sugar cookies with jammy center)
• Chocolate shortbread cookies
• White-chocolate-covered pretzels
Sugar cookies with butter cream frosting: For these cookies, we used a slightly modified version of Real Simple sugar cookie recipe from last year’s December issue (get the recipe here). Once the cookies had cooled, we decorated them with a simple icing (about 1/3 cup butter, 2 cups powdered sugar, 2 tablespoons milk and 1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla).
Raspberry jam cookies: For the jam cookies, we used the same basic sugar cookie recipe mentioned above, but instead of rolling out the dough, we used the beloved cookie scoop to get perfectly rounded dough balls, then pressed a thumbprint in the top of each. A dollop of raspberry jam in each thumbprint and 15 minutes in a 350-degree oven later, and voila! Mmm, mmm, good. (These cookies are a major favorite in this house; they fly off our counters like hotcakes, err, hotcookies. Zoinks!).
Chocolate shortbread cookies: This was my first go with the chocolate shortbread cookies, and they turned out pretty splendidly if I do say so myself (and I do. Om, nom, nom). They have a definite cocoa punch without being overly sweet, though they go best with a glass of milk or a cup of coffee. Here’s the recipe:
• 2 cups all-purpose flour
• 1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
• 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
• 1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter
• 1 cup powdered sugar
• 1 1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract (Real Simple calls for 1/2 teaspoon, but you know me and vanilla.)
• turbinado sugar for sprinkling
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Whisk together flour, cocoa and salt. Set aside. Using electric mixer, beat butter and powdered sugar on medium-high until fluffy. Add vanilla. Reduce speed to low, and gradually add flour mixture until just combined.
On lightly floured surface, roll dough to 1/4 inch thick. Use 2-inch cookie cutter (preferably fluted, though we used Christmas trees for a little festive flair), cut dough and arrange at least 1 inch apart on a parchment-lined baking sheet. Refrigerate on baking sheet for at least two hours (up to one day). Sprinkle dough generously with course sugar, and bake for 20 to 22 minutes, or until set. Cool slightly on baking sheets, then transfer to wire racks, and cool completely.
White-chocolate-covered pretzels: For the chocolate-covered pretzels, we melted white chocolate in a glass bowl over boiling water (for the double-boiler effect, y’all), added a few tablespoons of canola oil for extra malleability, then dipped the pretzels, added sprinkles and let them set on parchment paper.
For added fun in the final presentation, I grabbed a 12 pack of mason jars at the grocery store (tip: Buy the kind used for canning pickles; the opening on the top of the jar is larger and can accommodate bigger cookies). The jars really solidify the homemade feel of it all, don’t you think?
Woo to the hoo for cookies, cookies, coming out of our ears! So how about you guys? Have you been baking away this holiday season? Any new recipes you’re looking forward to trying? Or classic holiday treats you can’t get enough of? Happy baking!